By Lauren Beam (’07), Associate Director, Mentoring and Alumni Personal & Career Development, Wake Forest University
For many recent college graduates and young professionals, the thought of being an entrepreneur (or simply, your own boss) is a highly appealing and sought-after career path. Being able to have flexibility, dictate your own schedule, generate new ideas, and pursue the type of work that you love sounds like a dream, right? But what if you’re still new to your field and need to gain more real world work experience before venturing out on your own? Or, what if you’re eyeing an ideal job role, but aren’t quite experienced enough to land it? Consider becoming a “freelancer” in your workplace to develop the skills you need!
Freelancers do not necessarily own a business, but jump from job to job based on needs from various employers. For example, many companies are looking for help on one-off projects related to web development, graphic design, writing, marketing, accounting, etc. As you think about your current job role, how might you take on the mindset of a “freelancer” with your work? The idea here is to parlay your interests, skill set, and passions into projects or opportunities that build up your experience in the world of work, all while still being in your current role. Check out the following tips for taking on a “freelancer” approach to work.
As appropriate, let your manager know about your career interests and passions, and if there are any projects or assignments you would be interested in contributing to. Until you communicate this to the right people in your organization, you may not get the type of experiences you’re looking for. For example, if you’re working for a Public Relations firm as an Account Manager and want to gain some creative graphic design experience, your manager may suggest that you shadow or work more closely with the creative team on an upcoming project – or even give you a professional development budget to take a graphic design course. You’ll never know until you communicate your interests and ask! Most managers will appreciate your desire to learn and develop yourself professionally.
Once you’ve communicated the desire to expand your skill set and experiences, take the initiative to seek out new projects in your workplace. This will require you to set up meetings and have conversations with other employees within your organization who work on different teams and in other areas of expertise from you. Approach these conversations like “informational interviews,” and then find ways to offer contributions to new projects, as appropriate. Let’s say one of your side interests is in marketing via social media platforms, and your company happens to be launching a new project to highlight their social media presence. Seek out the people who are leading the project, share about your interest and expertise, and offer up ideas for how you might contribute or participate in some way. Likely, you will be seen as a team player and someone who takes the initiative to support others in their work by contributing your knowledge and time. Plus, you get experience in your area of interest and may develop a reputation for being the go-to person for all things social media (or whatever your passion may be). It’s a win-win for everyone!
Many organizations offer opportunities for employees to develop new skills related to their jobs or in their areas of interest. This may come in the form of in-person workshops, webinars, guest speakers, lunch and learns, or professional conferences. As you choose which opportunities to attend, don’t just consider learning opportunities that will help you in your current role, but those that will contribute to your future career goals. During my first job post-graduate school working as a career coach, I attended professional development classes on the latest technology tools for online teaching and education, how to build and create a website, and video content creation – I knew I wanted my next job role to include more creative, technological-related projects. Fast forward eight years, and now a huge part of my current job role is creating online content for courses and videos, and creating/maintaining websites!
If you’re having difficulties identifying new projects or having time to attend professional and career development opportunities during the work day, consider other places (either in or out of work) to get those experiences that you are seeking. Does your office facilitate a professional book club during the lunch hour that you could join? Or, a young professionals networking group that meets for happy hour? Are there volunteer opportunities in your city where you can hone and pursue new skills or interests? Is there an online class you could take via an online learning platform such as Lynda, edX, or Coursera? Ultimately, it’s up to you to find those opportunities for fostering your interests and to pursue them.
Want to read more about how to make the most of your first real world work experience? Check out these tips from The Muse.